Just writing “Fear Of Public Restrooms” in the title makes me sigh a little. It seems so stupid…and embarrassing…but I need to share my irrational fear as it is the source of much of my anxiety and the driving force of my agoraphobia. While I have suffered from moderate anxiety all my life, last year I had an episode that was a fork in the road for my life. I suddenly was debilitated. I wish I could tell you why…I wish someone could tell me why, but that’s not how anxiety attacks, panic, and fears work. I can tell you many reasons that probably lead up to it and the circumstances in my life that I was bottling inside, but if you are looking for a solution to anxiety there is no concrete answer. Anxiety takes time. There is no magic pill you can take that makes it go away – though there are some great ones out there that can help you cope while you figure out how to mentally get yourself back on track. I have taken this approach to my anxiety:
- It is my body telling me there’s something emotionally I need to address.
- It is part of me therefore I cannot remove it, but I can learn to live with it.
- It can be uncomfortable at times but it is not as disastrous as it feels.
- It creates opportunities for me to learn something about myself if I try.
- When in doubt, wait 15 minutes and see if things are better.
Today we are doing step 4 as yesterday and this morning we experienced step 1 in our household: A sudden and seemingly irrational anxiety attack. Yesterday my brother-in-law and I took my 2-year-old son Max with us on a beer run. While at the liquor store I got a wave of anxiety. Anxiety stems from many places for me (and anyone with anxiety) but I have a few specific triggers. This first wave was triggered by feeling a bit woozy for a second which my brain immediately interprets as “I’m about to die!” Most likely I was a bit dehydrated from a weekend of basketball-watching, junk-food-eating, beer-drinking fun. However, that isn’t how anxiety works…”I’m about to die,” is the first thought. Now, I’m used to this thought being the first thing my brains says so I’m quick to react with the defensive tools I have learned through CBT therapy and quickly squash those irrational thoughts. What is tough, is not getting angry with myself for having this thought in the first place. Its frustrating. Why can’t my first thought be, “Whoa…that was funky?” Why does it have to immediately be a brain tumor, blot clot, stroke, or whatever thing a healthy 33-year-old is not dying from. Nonetheless…my brain is now arguing with itself over whether or not I am dying. “Not dying” is winning.
Upon returning home I realized it was time to go out and the sitter was already there ready to play with Max and put him to sleep. My stomach turned…I didn’t feel well. The 3-week-old (Dodge) would be coming with us of course but I had lost track of time in all this inner-mind arguing. I tossed on clothes and out the door the 4 of us went (plus Dodge). My wife wanted to go someplace new which immediately strikes terror into my heart because of my lifelong irrational fear…a fear of public restrooms. New places have restrooms I have not been in before and therefore I don’t know if they are the type that scare me or slightly scare me. they are not “safe” like my home. Believe it or not I am most afraid of single stall bathrooms. The larger the bathroom and the more stalls it has the less scary they are to me. Anonymity. Before you start laughing…know I am dead serious. While anxiety plagues my mind, I have chronic stomach issues that plague me physically…completing the trifecta of wussiness are migraines. The place my wife wanted to go to was closed so we decided to go to another place (single stall) only to discover they too were closed. So we go to a place I like (multi-stall) which Kate veto’d so we went to a place we’ve been before (single stall). My stomach moans.
Let’s review some facts:
- Friday I suffered from a terrible migraine which affects my stomach.
- Saturday the migraine was ebbing but still slightly there.
- All weekend long I was nervously watching basketball.
- Sunday my stomach caught up to my migraine.
The moment we sat down for dinner I got a massive wave of anxiety…MASSIVE! One of the worst I have felt in a while…the helpless kind where I suddenly feel like things are never going to be the same again and I’m going to rip my hair our and run to the nut-house screaming for no reason. I tried to combat it as I had earlier in the day but this one was much stronger. “Dying” was winning. Then my stomach screamed out and my brain followed, we were dying. Single stall!!! No!!! I turned to my CBT therapy and told myself I needed to talk myself into this dinner not out of it. I brushed off inner-mind requests to say “I don’t feel well” and forced myself to sit and try to act natural. My aching stomach turned and my anxiety grew. I did not order wine. I did not want anything on the menu. I did not want to be there. I was “dying.”
3 trips to the single stall later I confessed I did not feel well and my group understandingly got the meals to go. It became clear…I was sick. This was more than anxiety. However, once I embraced the idea that I was sick was the moment I embraced the idea that I was ruining the night, which cued the guilt, which stoked the anxiety, which fueled the fire of thoughts that I was a terrible father who would not be able to provide for his children. Bingo! There is the source. Didn’t figure it out till this morning after a long night without sleep. I am scared of my children. I am scared I will not be able to provide a good life for them. I am scared that my fear will make me unfit to parent…and thus I get myself stuck in a cycle of fear. Cycles…so many damn cycles. You become so afraid of something that you become the exact thing you fear becoming. This pattern is why I have a fear of bathrooms. I am afraid I will have to use them because I often feel sick due to my stomach issues. This fear prompts my anxiety and makes me have the urge to use the restroom. I avoid it and begin to feel outright fear and pain. Then I use the restroom and my fears escalate because what if it happens again. Guess what happens next? It happens again…and now I’m in a cycle. The solution is getting back home, getting back to a safe place and environment, and resetting.
Why am I sharing this? I know the people I know will read this as I have a loyal fan-base of friends and family…which is why I sigh. However, I have a large following of people who I do not know that research my site looking for answers…because they are trapped in the same cycles as I am…and I have scoured the internet looking for answers with them. I am essentially logging this embarrassing (to me) private diary entry into my very public blog in hopes that maybe one person finds comfort in reading this. My irrational fear isn’t so irrational if you are a person suffering from anxiety, and if there is one thing I have learned…it is we all have anxiety, it just affects us in different ways. My dad is afraid of small spaces, my mom doesn’t like her pant legs to touch the ground, my sister is afraid of elevators, and I am afraid of bathrooms. Funny enough, the post I had lined up for today was about how good I have felt for the past few weeks and how I felt practically anxiety-free. Strange. The thing to take from that isn’t how quickly anxiety can cause you to spiral out of control…no. It is how there are good times on the horizon and we just need to be patient and optimistic. An episode of anxiety is like having a bad day, you just gotta put it behind you and move forward.
The question is, was I sick yesterday or was my anxiety fueling my stomach issues? There is evidence that would say I was sick. There is evidence that would say yesterday was my body telling me I need to emotionally confront my fears over having another child. There is evidence that would say it was all tied to my migraine. There is evidence that it was all of the above. So what is the answer? In the words of my therapist and therapists worldwide, “Time’s up, let’s stop here for the day.”
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